Giant pandas gear up for second shot at making a baby

With the approach of the giant panda mating season, Kai Kai will display some courtship behaviour.
With the approach of the giant panda mating season, Kai Kai will display some courtship behaviour. PHOTO: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE
Giant pandas Kai Kai (top) and Jia Jia are showing signs that their breeding season was starting, said the Wildlife Reserves Singapore.
Giant pandas Kai Kai (top) and Jia Jia are showing signs that their breeding season was starting, said the Wildlife Reserves Singapore. PHOTO: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE - Giant pandas Kai Kai and Jia Jia are preparing for their second shot at making a baby at the River Safari, following their failed attempt last year.

In the coming weeks, visitors may observe some intriguing courtship behaviour. Male panda Kai Kai may bleat and scent-mark more frequently. He could also be spotted curling back his upper lip to sniff for pheromones, to assess the breeding readiness of his mate.

Meanwhile, Jia Jia may appear restless and bleat to attract the attention of her mate when mating season arrives.

Kai Kai, nine, and Jia Jia, eight, mated for the first time last April, but natural mating and artificial insemination failed to work.

Giant pandas usually start to breed around the ages of five to seven.

River Safari's team of vets and keepers now have a better understanding of the endangered bears' "notoriously complex reproduction process", Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS) said on Wednesday.

Kai Kai has been dutifully doing his daily "sexercise", or squat training, which is intended to strengthen its hind limbs and improve his stamina for the act

The mating season for giant pandas is typically from February to May, and the couple showed signs in January that their breeding season was starting.

The pair swapped exhibits and dens in January and February to allow them to smell the scent of another gender, which stimulates their mating instincts.

When keepers deem the pair ready, the pandas will be taken out of their respective exhibits for three days to allow natural mating in the dens. During this time, guests will not be able to see them at their home in the Giant Panda Forest at the River Safari.

Vets have collected Kai Kai's semen for artificial insemination should the natural mating be unsuccessful.

"Kai Kai and Jia Jia are the first giant pandas to live so close to the equator and make an intriguing case study for researchers worldwide," said Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, chief life sciences officer at WRS. "We have learnt much about the care of this endangered species and their breeding behaviour in the last few years, and the team is ready to apply this knowledge and hope for a Singapore baby panda this year."